On Friday, September 20 a crowd gathered at the Frye for the opening of Mark Mitchell's Burial. We knew we would be seeing nine models clothed in what the wardrobe designer and artist imagined as their death ensembles, but I'm not sure we were prepared for just how powerful this experience would be.
As we moved through the gallery, Mitchell's muses laid on the floor on top of coffin-sized mirrors in gorgeously baroque, intricate and completely biodegradeable costumes of silk, wood, cotton, and wool. Cellist Lori Goldston filled in the rich, cream-colored neo-gothic mood.
There were tears, there were hands covering mouths, there were hands holding other hands, there were copious cell phone cameras.
The live performance—that's how it felt; almost like a quiet, reserved, meditative choreography—was an ephemeral thing (not that it could have felt brief for models, muses, and fellow artist/designers like Maikoyo Alley-Barnes, Davora Lindner, and Anna Telcs who laid still for two and a half hours), but the garments are on display through Sunday, October 20.
On Saturday, October 5 the artist will talk about his work at 2 in the galleries—the Frye is always free, so this opportunity is as well.
Here, excerpts from my conversation with Mitchell about the run of the show.
-About the huge outpouring of support and incredibly positive buzz surrounding the show: "I was really taken aback by it all; I guess I had gotten used to the idea. I wasn't prepared for how powerful the reactions would be."
-His response when I told him that I immediately thought to myself, oh my god, yeah, what am I going to wear when I die?: "No, no, I wasn't thinking like that at all. When I got HIV years ago, I had something chosen for my burial, but now I'm more interested in making things for other people. I don't plan on dying for another 20 or 30 years."
-About the benefits of seeing the show on mannequins (as opposed to the opening reception): "Now it's a 360 view; the backs of the garments have some cool details that weren't accessible at the opening."
-What will happen to the garments next: "I'd like to have them photographed with models, and yes, there's talk of showing it elsewhere. This isn't finished yet."
-About the incredible amount of handwork on the various pieces that make up the nine ensembles: "Everything I make takes so goddamn long. It's an obsessive difference; the hand-finishing, the hand-rolled hems, the lightness of all that. But handwork can be done in sedentary positions. It's not restful, but almost."
-About the difference between being an artist and being a designer (he identifies as the former): "I like to make costumes because they go out and work; I don't like making things that hang in closets. I wish I could do something that's more practical, but I'm not very interested in fashion."
-On making the piece Goldston played in at the reception: "I told her I'd make her a dress that felt like a T-shirt, something with enough skirt to comfortably get her legs around the instrument. It's completely different than what she usually wears. She's usually quite casual, but she says she loves it, and it made her think differently about performance. She said she'll wear it again."
-On illness: "HIV and AIDS are a big part of what I do. They're why I try to do things so thoroughly. What you do matters, you've got to make your time here matter."
(See the award-winning video interview at the end of this post and this Seattle Channel one for more insight.)